Tag Archive for: misleaders

Editorial: What Happens When Leaders Become Misleaders

Misleading statements. Broken promises. Redefining commonly accepted meanings of words. Math that doesn’t add up. Gobbledygook explanations. These practices have all become “business as usual” in Harris County Commissioners Court. And they come with a high price tag.

Bait-and-Switch Bonds

To get the 2022 Road and Parks Bond approved, County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Commissioner Adrian Garcia, and Commissioner Rodney Ellis voted to allocate a minimum of $220 million to each precinct. They heavily promoted the guaranteed minimum in pre-referendum advertising, online and in community meetings.

Screen capture from County bond web site shows two promises were broken.

A short while after voters approved the bond, the Democrats voted to shortchange Precinct 3 by $32.5 million – even though P3 has 47% of the county’s roads and 35% of the county’s parks. They also voted to give $110 million to Harris County Engineering for administration.

It was a blatant bait-and-switch scheme

Commissioner Ramsey has been trying to win back the amount P3 voters were shortchanged. But in a 10/31/2023 meeting, Commissioners Garcia and Ellis implied that their portions of funding were already spent, so they couldn’t be reallocated.

Said Garcia, “Right now, of the allocation that I’ve got, my guys have already let that out the door. Yeah.”

Ellis replied, “Yeah, we’ve already committed our funds as well.”

However, when I asked the Harris County Engineering Department for a list of projects funded by the 2022 Road and Parks Bond, they could find no records responsive to my request.

Reviewing bids approved by Harris County’s Commissioners Court between January 1 and November 6 of this year showed that Ellis has spent less than a million dollars on road improvements. Ellis and Garcia together spent less than $7.7 million on road projects. So how did $562 million get “out the door”?

They may have “plans” for spending $562 million, but so far, they’ve only actually spent somewhere between $0.00 and $7.7 million from the bond. 

Their choice of words implied that even if they wanted to achieve a fairer balance, it was too late. Did they chose those words accidentally or intentionally?

Welcome to the semantic rubber room.

Harris County Commissioners Court on 10/31/2023. Discussion of Road and Parks Bond begins at 2 hours and 30 minutes into the meeting.

Explanation For Unequal Minimum Distribution

In the same meeting, Judge Hidalgo and Budget Director Daniel Ramos tried to explain why they shortchanged Precinct 3 in the first place.

Lina Hidalgo’s Explanation 

Hidalgo said, “What I have here, and maybe Ramos can jump in, is that we approved 220 to each precinct and the remaining balance according to SVI, because we hadn’t thought about … there’s overhead costs of 110 million. And I think that just literally nobody thought about it. I asked my team, ‘Go back at the notes and see if you know anybody had that anywhere and just hit it or whatever.’ Well, it’s not anywhere. So then by the time January rolled around, the budget folks or whomever came back and said, you know, we actually have to shave 110 off the top. And so, then we changed it from 220 to 175, given that we shaved 110 off the top. So, it’s 175 minimum for each precinct and the rest according to SVI.”

SVI refers to the CDC’s Social Vulnerability Index.

Issues with Hidalgo Explanation

First, she broke a promise to voters. But there are several other problems:

  1. If overhead costs were really $110 million, you would reduce the minimum for each precinct by $27.5 million, not $45 million. Said another way, $45 million per precinct adds up to $180 million, not $110.
  2. Why are we paying current employee salaries out of bonds that will require interest payments for a decade or more? Especially when the County said it wouldn’t use any bond money to fund day-to-day operations. (See screen capture above.)
  3. The much larger flood bond in 2018 had zero for administrative overhead (although admittedly there were $10 million worth of legal and accounting fees associated with buying the bonds).
Ramos Explanation

Budget Director Daniel Ramos then said to Hidalgo, “You’re correct. So, I believe in January, sorry, the first or second quarter, this new constituted body came back and changed the formula. One: to carve off 110% or, sorry, 10% off of the 900 million for roads and parks to allocate to the county engineer and then precinct 2 put up a motion to do 70, a little over 70%, which is the 175 number plus, and the remainder, which is 29.8%, give or take, for SVI. And that’s where we are today. And that vote passed four zero …”

Problems with Ramos’ Explanation

While purporting to support Hidalgo, Ramos’ explanation contradicts hers. Seventy percent of 220 is 154, not 175. The bond was for $1.1 billion, not $900 million. And his explanation has the feel of a major-league curve ball.

The 2022 Road and Parks Bond was a classic bait-and-switch scheme. And it’s not the first time such deception happened.

Flood-Bond Deception

The same leaders did the same thing after the 2018 flood bond passed. Ellis even bragged openly in commissioners court about how he tricked voters.

The three Democrats promised to focus flood control spending on the hardest hit areas first. But they have not. They defined “worst first” to mean the “poorest” watersheds, not those that had the “most severe flooding.”

Even though language in the bond promised an “equitable distribution” of funds, the Democrats adopted a formula based largely on income and social vulnerability, without regard to flood risk or damage. That heavily skewed distribution of bond money. As a result, 65% of the flood bond projects that lost funding this year were in Precinct 3.

Such explanations and actions undermine the credibility of elected officials and trust in government.

These are not little, white lies. They are whoppers involving billions of dollars. 

Worse, because of inflation, affluent areas that desperately need flood mitigation may get none. Twenty-percent inflation since 2020 has trimmed $1 billion off the purchasing power of the 2018 flood bond.

So areas that ranked low on the Democrat’s Equity Prioritization Framework may get little or no help from the tax dollars they approved.

Consequences of Loss of Trust

Declining trust in government reduces support for government action to address a range of policy concerns, including flooding. Distrust makes it harder to make collective decisions that advance the common good. It fosters polarization in politics. And undermines faith in elections.

Loss of trust could jeopardize future bonds. After the bait and switch with the 2018 Flood Bond, the 2022 Road and Parks bond received far less support, even with the guaranteed minimum per precinct.

To come together, leaders must stop misleading. They must promise what they will deliver and deliver what they promise. Or we’ll all wind up in the semantic rubber room wondering what’s real and what’s not.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/7/23

2291 Days since Hurricane Harvey